Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Sunshine Chicken Salad

How about a tasty chicken salad to welcome the first day of spring?  Even though we have no snow on the ground here, the first day of spring definitely came in like a Lion with chilly temperatures (about 32F as I type) and lots of wind (meaning a wind chill of 20F).  Glad I didn't put away my warm coat yet!  On the day I made this last weekend, it was a mild 57F.  The wild ride of March :)

This delightful chicken salad idea came by way of a Penny at Lake Lure Cottage who happened to mention the great chicken salad sandwich she and her husband enjoy at a restaurant in New Smyra Beach, Florida in her last post.  No recipe, just a list of the ingredients, so I decided to try and recreate it.  The apples, dried cranberries and orange mayonnaise sounded delicious together.  And, since it's from a restaurant in Florida, I named this Sunshine Chicken Salad :)

This was also a great opportunity to use the pea shoots that I started indoors last month.  I was anxious to see something green growing so just put a small handful of pea seeds in some seed starting soil and look what I have now! They added another wonderful and flavorful dimension to the salad. 

Serve it on a bed of greens, add some avocado slices, as I did, or eat it on a buttery croissant, the way the restaurant serves it! Enjoy!

Sunshine Chicken Salad

Printable Recipe

Serves 2 as a main course salad

Add as much of each ingredient as you like, according to your preference!

2 cooked chicken breasts halves (roasted, poached or rotisserie chicken breast), diced
1 organic Gala Apple, cored and diced
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup toasted pecans, broken into pieces
1-2 green onions, sliced thin, saving some of the green part for garnish
1/2 cup Hellmans or Best Foods mayonaisse
2 teaspoons concentrated orange juice, or use freshly squeezed
1/2 teaspoon grated organic orange rind, optional
Small bunch of snipped pea shoots, optional
Salt and Pepper to taste

Cook chicken breast, allow to cool and then dice.

In a small saute pan, melt a little butter and add the pecans. Toast, tossing them around in the pan until fragrant and beginning to brown, slightly. Add a pinch of salt and toss. Place on paper toweling to cool.

Make the orange mayonnaise by adding the orange concentrate or fresh orange juice and zest, if using. Stir thoroughly to combine and taste test. Add more orange juice, if desired.

In a large bowl, combine the diced chicken, diced apple, cranberries, pecans, and sliced green onions.

Add the orange mayonnaise, salt and pepper, and toss to coat, adding more mayo, if necessary.

Cool for at least 1 hour to let the flavors combine and serve on a bed of lettuce and top with additional green onion and pea shoots, if available.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Chocolate Mocha Refrigerator Cake and a Visit to Joshua Tree National Park, CA

If you're entertaining this Easter and don't have a lot of time to make dessert, I have the perfect solution for you!  This Chocolate Mocha Refrigerator Cake is not only delicious but also simple to make.  It needs to be made a day ahead so one less thing to stress about on the big day. 

And, did I mention versatile? All you have to do to make it your own is use a different flavor cookie and a different flavoring in the whipped filling.  See my suggestions below in the recipe. 

It's adapted from Ina Garten's Mocha Chocolate Ice Box Cake and we all know Ina's recipes are the best!  I hope you give this one a try.

At the end of February and first few days of March, my husband and I joined a group of friends for a week-long getaway in Southern California.  Toasty warm it was not, but we were able to do all of the activities we had hoped to do.  One of which was a side trip to Joshua Tree National Park, which I have to say is spectacular!

These photos were taken while hiking the Hidden Valley trail, one of the easier hikes within the park.  The towering rock formations were formed millions of years ago by the tremendous heat and energy from two of earth's plates colliding and thrusting molten rock up from below.  Then, the forces of a erosion brought them to the surface.  They attract world-class rock climbers from all over the world. If you look carefully, you can see a lone climber in the center photo on the right side of the rock wall and in the far right photo, above, there are several climbers sitting atop the formation. Click image for a larger view.

Forests of the iconic Joshua Tree (which is actually a form of yucca plant) dot the lower levels.  Because Hidden Valley is naturally encased by rock formations, it has a unique, micro-habitat of plants and animals not found together anywhere else in the park. It's a truly awe-inspiring area which I highly recommend should you ever have the opportunity to visit.

Chocolate-Mocha Refrigerator Cake

Printable Recipe

2 cups heavy cream
12 ounces Mascarpone cheese (found in tubs in the cheese section of the store)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup coffee liqueur or Kahlua
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli)
1 teaspoon instant espresso, instant coffee powder or other coffee flavoring
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 (8-ounce) packages chocolate chip cookies, such as Tate's Bake Shop *see note
Shaved semisweet chocolate, for garnish

In the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, combine the heavy cream, mascarpone, sugar, coffee liqueur, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and vanilla. Mix on low to combine and then slowly raise the speed, until it forms stiff peaks.

To assemble the cake, arrange chocolate chip cookies flat in an 8-inch spring-form pan, covering the bottom as much as possible. (break some cookies to fill in the spaces.) Spread one-fourth of the mocha whipped cream evenly over the cookies. Place another layer of cookies on top, lying flat and touching (breaking some again to fit the spaces, followed by another fourth of the cream. Continue layering cookies and cream until there are 4 layers of each, ending with a layer of cream. Smooth the top with a spatula, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Run a small sharp knife around the outside of the cake and remove the sides of the pan and place cake (along with bottom of spring-form pan) on a serving plate. Sprinkle the top with the shaved chocolate and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cut in wedges, and serve cold.

*Any flat, "crispy" cookie will work.

Additional Suggestions:

Bailey's Irish Cream instead of Kahlua with Nabisco Chocolate Wafer Cookies
Amaretto Liqueur with Amaretti Cookies
Chambord Liqueur with Nabisco Chocolate Wafer Cookies

Adapted from Ina's Garten's Mocha Chocolate Ice Box Cake